Cary Neeper

Writer, Blogger, and Painter -- esteeming life wherever and whatever it might be.

Check out Critical Non-fiction for links to reviews in Goodreads.com

COMPLEXITY
Exploration of complexity, its indicators, embedded chaos, and value in human organizations.

Forty Years with Birds and Dogs
Care and Respect

A Review by Don Neeper-- The Spirit Level

February 20, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Complex Systems

The greater the disparity in income, the more dysfunction a society has in multiple characteristics, including infant mortality, social mobility, literacy, AIDS, homicide rate, degenerative diseases, teenage births, trust, and status of women.
See the complete Blog 18 by Donald Neeper at
his web site.
The Spirit Level

The Brain Is Most Complex

July 7, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Complex Systems, Book Club Discussion

The human brain has been called the most complex object in the universe. It deserves that title because its neurons have so many connections to each other. Suns and galaxies are relatively simple, with billions of objects interacting with fewer nonlinear options. The many types of neurons are not alone in the brain. They are enmeshed in a complicated arrangement of fine connective tissue and fed by a vast network of blood vessels and hormones. Recently we have discovered that they can grow and invent needed pathways. In the 1990's my daughter did her master's thesis showing that the neuronal growth hormone in rats spiked after nights of running on its exercise wheel.

Very interesting, but the point here is that brains, even small ones, are not simple. And they are not all the same. Birds, at least scrub jays, have a special lump of brain tissue that remembers where thousands of peanuts are hidden by our front porch. An entertaining read is Colin Tudge's The Bird .

Another case in point: though my Khaki Campbell ducks can't remember to go around the fence to exit the pen if the opening is not visible, they never forget that I'm the person who digs red worms for them. I suspect that evolution—selection working with the complex phenomenon of self-organization in the brain—has provided living creatures with a genius for finding and selecting good food.

Temple Grandin, in her new book The Autistic Brain , emphasizes that every autistic child is an unique case to be treated with specific care and directions. Behavior patterns labeled autism present a continuum of abilities and unique talents. Labels that categorize symptoms limit the imagination and endanger the treatment by those responsible for the care of individual lives.

We humans are addicted to simplifying. We lazily shelve ideas and concepts whenever we can, applying oversimplified definitions and questions to living beings, like when life begins. Every aspect of life is a continuum, a hierarchy of ongoing complex systems at many levels. Nature doesn't do categories. Though useful for organizing our thinking, they do not serve us well when we confront reality.

Little Things Mean A Lot, Given Time

October 16, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Amplification they call it, in some books about complexity. The fact that when a lot of things are connected and act in nonlinear ways, a small change can trigger events that trigger other events until huge changes occur. Marketers would love to know how this works. How did Harry Potter trigger such a following? How does a small virus in a big ocean trigger a disease that changes the world? That's another story yet to be copy edited and set into design. And how did the Hen House come to be the home of 2 chickens, 2 geese, 1 turkey, and 4 ducks--when I didn't want more ducks. They're very messy and a lot of work with their dabbling--eating mud and washing it down, but loving clean water.

It all started with Dexter, a young rooster who needed refuge from a dominant cock who ruled the roost on a small farm twenty miles away. (more…)

Flocking Behavior and Tribalism

October 10, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Bobbi, Lucy and Little Bear at the stock tank pond.
Watching the Hen House gang on a sunny fall day, the sky bluer than blueberries, the air just cool enough, the birds--all of a different feather--grazing peacefully . . . Oooops!
The newly grown baby duck Puddles came a bit too close to Bobbi goose. A warning nip on a stretched out neck, and Puddles backed off to flock with mom and dad. Then one of the hens decided the ducks must have found something yummy. "Too close, ma-am." The message was clear.

What was striking was the overall structure of the flocking behavior--peaceful togetherness with subtle segregation for those not of the same feather. Ducks swim together. Geese swim together. And they take turns. But I've never seen one of each kind of bird together in the small stock tank pond. Self-organization of a very subtle kind.

Watching all this from the bench overlooking the yard, it made me think of the US Congress--two mind sets that can't swim together in the small pond of today's outdated assumptions. Is this the current expression of human tribalism? The failure to listen? The failure to share the pond? Isn't it time to learn to graze together on the reality of limits and find shared values? It's time to reconsider--just about everything. Time to outgrow our tribalism and share concerns.

Efficiency Wins The Future

October 3, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

In his book Anasazi America, David E. Stuart illustrates the point that energy efficiency in a society trumps power and growth, when it comes to surviving for the long term. The implications for our current addiction to overproduction are ominous.

I don't mean to subtract from the importance of this idea for our future, but I think a few thoughts from the Hen House might be interesting to consider. 1) Chickens are very efficient nibblers. They can spend all day roaming around the yard, pecking at this and that--it's hard to tell what--and coming home to roost perfectly satisfied, leaving their dish of high-tech lay pellets untouched. (more…)

Change, the Hen House, and the Power of Fear

September 25, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

It can be very subtle--fear. It keeps hens in the pen when they can't see, from their viewpoint, that the door is open. It keeps Lucy (the goose) from trying a new, perfectly good, leafy green vegetable. It keeps intelligent economists from exploring the means of providing basic needs without growth--like "...subsistence, security and participation...". (Quote from Rob Dietz's "Restoring Science as the Basis for Economic Policy in The Daly News, August 12, at http://www.steadystate.org.)
Fear keeps our politicians from exploring ways to achieve long-term prosperity on a healthy planet, rather than touting growth as a cure-all for an overstressed Earth. The reason? Debt and the fear that interest generates. How's that for a one-liner? Dietz puts it this way--we have "...a defense mechanism that allows people to accept faulty premises."
i.e. the faulty premises of classical economics.

We can do it--accept the hard facts, like "Nothing can grow forever." We can use awareness of the workings of complex systems to modify the way we do things in both our institutions and in our daily lives.

First of all we can demand that universities explore and teach ecological economics, how a steady state might work, what can disrupt it, how we can get there from here. Look for the details is some upcoming books--O'Neill and Dietz's ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, Brian Czech's SUPPLY SHOCK and my fictional example in THE WEBS OF VAROK.)

Goats, Skunks, and Gardens

September 18, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Streak
Years ago daughter Indra wanted a goat. It was time for each daughter to have a pet of their own. We had seen baby goats at the State Fair, and she had fallen in love with a miniature variety with huge brown eyes. It seemed not all that different from a big dog. But intriguing somehow, perhaps more needy? We all agreed, a goat would be fine. The garden would suffer, but it already suffered from being too large with too many hills. Maybe the goat would help by mowing the hilly parts. A well-known lady in town had once had a house-broken goat. That would be even more fun--but the current pet rules were too specific. No goats in town. Sorry. So we got Indra a skunk--a wild animal, not domesticated. More on that next week. Therein lies the complexity--emergence and all that. (more…)

First Swim--Time Out From Panic

August 27, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Puddles and Ms. Khaki
I planned carefully, so Ms. Khaki wouldn't panic while "we" took baby duck Puddles up the hill to the stock tank for his/her first swim. I asked Kiebler and Ms. Ritz to go in a bit early from their morning swim. Then I opened the wide door to the nest box from the outside, set up a miniature ramp to the ground, and ushered Ms. Khaki and baby into the nest so they could see their new exit. They didn't. They didn't rush into the scary world outside.

I waited. No go. Finally I picked up baby Puddles (who needed a bit more handling to accustom him to it, in case of need some day). When I held him outside, Ms. Khaki rapidly followed. They paced around the pen a bit. Mom was obviously distressed at finding herself in the yard with her offspring. Then the urge to graze took over. She dug in the weeds for a few moments, worried again, paced around the pen again. I kept pointing and repeating, "Go swimming. It's okay," trusting to her knowledge of English.

Something told me to keep my distance, and soon Ms. Khaki spotted the path to the stock tank. She took off, Puddles following behind. She had to do it herself. I could see her brain self-organizing around the idea, "It's okay. I've been here many times before. A swim would be nice for us both." If I had tried to lead or usher her there, the worry would have taken over, smashing the comfortable circuits of her own experience.

Ms. Khaki and Puddles enjoyed a brief swim, a few dabbles of mud, then hurried back down the path to the security of the pen--not in through the new ramp to the open nest box. She went to the familiar pen gate. Given enough happy swims, the ducks might learn the new route--or not. Before that happens, Puddles will probably be large enough to join the flock.

Economics As Complex--Tipping Points

June 24, 2012

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

When complex systems produce unpredictable, inevitable catastrophes--a given in the ubiquitous power law distributions of common events like earthquakes and collections of bad debts--there is often a tipping point that triggers the catastrophe. That tipping point is the moment of criticality, when one more input, no matter how small, produces a sudden change. The famous one more straw that breaks the camel's back. Self-organized criticality is also seen in volcanic activity, as well in the slippage of faults that produce earthquakes.

Examples: In ant colonies, tactile and chemical communication is maximum at critical population densities, resulting in stable patterns of raid activity. Termite mounds don't develop in pillars until the termite population reaches a critical density. (more…)

Power Laws--Economics and Complexity

June 18, 2012

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

Per Bak in "How Nature Works" pointed out that understanding complex systems requires accounting for fractals and the ubiquity of power law distributions.

Power laws, called 1/f noise, mean there are lots of small events and few large ones and a moderate number of moderate events--like earthquakes. If you plot the frequency vs the size of events, you get a straight line on a log log plot-- frequency is inversely proportional to the power or size of an event. The data are scale free, like fractals, but can breakdown at very small or large values. See Benoit Mandelbrot's "The Misbehavior of Markets." Someone has pointed out that no laws in physics hint at the ubiquity of this observation.

Some interesting examples are the distribution of internet nodes with certain numbers of links, canopy gap size in forests, Zipf's Law--the fraction of cities with so many inhabitants, the frequency of the use of words in English, and economic systems--a realization just now making some waves carrying a touch of hope. Check out the Bibliography in the previous blog.

Since economic systems are certainly complex, they might carry the features--indicators, we've called them--of complex systems, including unpredictability from at least six sources. We'd better get cracking on regulations that protect us against any more unpredictable and "inevitable catastrophes," assumed by power law distributions. We need not stand under the mountain waiting for the avalanche to cut loose again.

Human Race Longevity Survival Bibliography

June 5, 2012

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

Completing the Picture--Adding Ecological Economics and steadystate.org imperatives to Complexity Economics

A little late with a big Aha--it's time to put together a mini-Bibliography to review the new economical thinking that could save the future.

Start with a general overview of problems with classical economics, economics as a complex system, and the role of government, leaving the How of solving problems to citizens. Be sure to read The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Eric Hanauer, Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books, 2011.

For tending the economic garden that has become overgrown, go to steadystate.org and see C.A.S.S.E.'s twelve steps to a no-growth economy--how to get over our obsession with growth and its cause, uncontrolled debt. (more…)

Recommended Books

March 5, 2011

Tags: Complex Systems, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

The book by Herman Daly and John Cobb "For the Common Good" is a detailed analysis of steady state economics contrasted with classical economic theory with its infinite substitution and necessity for growth. (more…)
2013 Nautilus Silver Award YA and 2012 Foreward Finalist Adult Science Fiction




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A Place Beyond Man
Authors Guild Edition 2011


The Oil Patch Project--Mystery team Cary and Don
See Oil & Gas tag above.